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TOPIC: green

Ideas

On Our Planet's Future, And The "Art Of The Necessary"

States and technology have failed to stop the destruction of the natural world, but a deceptively simple rethinking of our habits could turn the tide.

-Essay-

BOGOTÁ — From Hurricane Ian to Pakistan's catastrophic floods, we have new reminders all the time that the risk of irreparably changing living conditions on the planet is real — and more alarming in scope than we had envisaged.

Yet the solutions so far have been ineffective because it is living beings, not things, which are destroying the world.

We could blame methane from cows, or plastic or the carbon dioxide of fossil fuels, but the culprits are our diets, our use of plastic or our high-tech traveling. Industry may be responsible, but we individuals are the ones who sustain it.

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Did Climate Change Cause The Fall Of The Ming Dynasty?

In the mid-17th century, the weather in China got colder. The frequency of droughts and floods increased while some regions were wiped out by tragic famines. And the once-unstoppable Ming dynasty began to lose power.

The accounts are chilling. In the summary of his course on modern Chinese history at the Collège de France, Pierre-Etienne Will examined journals held by various individuals, often part of the Chinese administration, during the final years of the Ming dynasty. These autobiographical writings were almost always kept secret, but they allow us to immerse ourselves in the everyday life of the first half of 17th-century China.

In the Jiangnan region, close to Shanghai and generally considered as a land of plenty, the 1640s did not bode well. The decade that had just ended was characterized by an abnormally cold and dry climate and poor harvests. The price of agricultural goods kept rising, pushing social tension to bursting points.

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My Failed Attempt At An Eco-Friendly Summer Vacation

Mass tourism developed by taking advantage of cheap and abundant energy. But those days are over and we are all going to have to reinvent how we holiday. But as I found out, that is no easy task.

-Essay-

PARIS — I had a wonderful vacation, thank you for asking. At the same time, I couldn't let go and relax fully because one question has been on my mind all summer. Is my vacation sustainable? In other words, will my kids be able to take the same kind of vacation 20 years from now?

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Biophilia Or Bust? Ecology Is Not About Empathy For Other Living Creatures

When humans care about the natural world, it means revising our place in it and acting accordingly, not giving nature "rights and concessions" that are figments of our self-serving imagination.

-Essay-

BOGOTÁ — One of the most contradictory elements in the human condition is the dual ability to be moved by or remain indifferent to the suffering of creatures. The poverty starkly evident on city streets for as long as there have been cities prompted the creation of welfare systems just as soon as institutions emerged. Today, those systems fall short of the needs of our collective welfare, which we now recognize as vulnerable for depending on the state of natural ecosystems.

The structural inequities and injustice we see require political decisions, but also pose challenges of coexistence in our day-to-day lives. We must thus act on the basis of compassion and empathy, even if such concepts may be understood differently, as the histories of the great religions and their critics illustrate.

Talking of compassion from the scientific perspective (always said to be heartless) or from the perspective of social ideologies are not the same.

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Green
​Coraly Cruz Mejías

Fighting For Puerto Rico's Solar Revolution — And Against Sexism

Can Puerto Rico’s abundant sunshine and ambitious women unlock its renewable energy potential?

OROCOVIS, PUERTO RICO — Every few weeks, Yadira Sánchez Fuentes fearlessly descends waterfalls and slippery caverns, often the only woman among a group of caving enthusiasts. The rest of the month, with that same strength, smile and sense of satisfaction, the petite brunette confidently scales rooftops to help install solar panels, simultaneously tackling two outdated problems: Puerto Rico’s energy grid and gender stereotypes.

“We have to create leaders, not followers,” the 44-year-old says.

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food / travel
Guillaume Bregeras

Superstar French Chefs-Cum-Farmers Turn Haute Cuisine Green

Driven by the desire to offer an experience rooted in their terroir, more and more star chefs are turning into farmers. They have the same goal: to keep up with the times by offering local and sustainable produce.

PARIS – Bee balm, savory, marjoram ... All around the terrace overlooking the valley, dozens and dozens of aromatic herbs and vegetables grow despite the first frosts of autumn. Before entering the harshness of winter, Emmanuel Renaut rubs sweet woodruff between his hands and invites others to do the same. "Can you feel the power of this fragrance? I use it in both my sweet and savory dishes." The sweet woodruff mix is one of the many that Renaut incorporates daily into the kitchen of Flocon de Sel, his three-star Michelin restaurant perched at 1,300 meters, just above the village of Megève, in the French Alps.

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Green Or Gone
Carl-Johan Karlsson

What Greta Thunberg Reminds Us About The Limits Of Adulthood

Now 18 and officially an adult, the climate activist's message isn't changing. And what about our own grownup rationalizations?

It's 2021, and that means Greta Thunberg can lawfully grab a beer in her hometown pub. Of course, to someone who's started a global movement, dressed down heads of state and fronted Time Magazine as Person of the Year, obtaining Swedish drinking rights may not seem like a big deal.

And yet in her unlikely rise from 15-year-old school protester to global icon, Greta's reaching official adulthood is noteworthy. She made global headlines on her 18th birthday back in January, taking the opportunity to troll her critics: "Tonight you will find me down at the local pub exposing all the dark secrets behind the climate- and school strike conspiracy," Greta tweeted.

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Smarter Cities
Jean-Philippe Lens*

Smart Cities Won't Save The Planet: We Need Low-Tech Cities

The concept of smart cities is a kind of received wisdom among planners and technologists, but our digital world of today is not sustainable.

NAMUR — Last December, the morning after Saint-Nicholas Day, my daughter was impatiently waiting for the mailman, who was due to deliver the latest issue of her youth magazine. It immediately caught my attention as its front page featured a complete dossier on what our cities of the future will be like. Vertical, green but above all, connected. The word is out, our cities will be "smart cities."

This phenomenon is already booming here in Belgium. Every year since 2013, the Agoria organization bestows Smart City Awards to cities which invest in digital technology. Antwerp, Kortrijk, Ghent, but also Liège, Namur and Houffalize have all already received awards.

The idea behind this is to think about digital technology as vital to all the challenges posed by global warming, road congestion, air quality improvement or even biodiversity loss.

The result? A multitude of sensors, screens and wifi hotspots colonize cities, connecting everything that can be connected. All kinds of objects from swimming pool boilers to war memorial spotlights, road traffic flows or the level of glass shards in recycling bins, and even trees. The collected data is then transmitted, stored and processed, allowing optimal management of everything that makes up a city.

70% of the world's population will live in cities by 2050

Full car park? The GPS will automatically redirect your autonomous car to the nearest free parking spot. A full recycling bin? The garbage truck will be notified immediately and will arrive to empty it. Tree in need of water? The sprinkler will instantly activate, delivering the correct dose of nutrients.

The concept of smart cities is now discussed in all urban planning seminars and conferences. The founding argument by advocates is that 70% of the world's population will live in cities by 2050. Yet such a vision is likely to have a colossal impact on the environment.

According to data storage company Quantum, a 100% autonomous car would emit 5 to 10 terabytes of raw data every day (1 terabyte = 1 million megabytes). But in one of its studies, the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME) estimates that sending an email of 1 MB generates 20 grams of CO2. With these proportions, it would mean that an autonomous car would produce 100 to 200 tonnes of CO2… every day. These figures may be just a rough approximation, but they show the enormous challenge presented by the environmental impact of big data in the future. In 2019, it was already estimated that the Internet, if it were a country, would be the world's third-largest emitter of CO2…

What if, instead, the urban population started to decline by 2050? — Photo: Jack Cohen

While the connected city can certainly provide answers to future challenges, the low-tech city — a concept that's still largely absent in urban planning debates — can offer a range of solutions and technical innovations that are just as effective and much less energy-intensive.

For instance, rather than building an underground network of pipelines and stormwater basins equipped with sensors to monitor the level of runoff water at all times and manage its flow, the low-tech city only needs an overhead network of infiltration basins and temporary immersions basins. Not only is this solution cheaper and less energy-intensive, but it also helps to develop biodiversity and reinfiltrate rainwater into the water tables.

While the connected city maintains road infrastructure and invests massively in cameras, sensors and digital panels to channel all traffic flow as efficiently as possible, the development of its low-tech counterpart relies on public spaces for public transport, bicycles and pedestrians.

Waste management can also be handled differently. While the smart city equips each bin with a connected chip which alerts the waste collector as soon as the filling level is reached, the low-tech city eliminates the door-to-door collection system by the generalization of bulk, deposit and compost.

The Internet, if it were a country, would be the world's third-largest emitter of CO2

However, the low-tech city concept doesn't work well with a high population density. Beyond human infrastructure, it also requires a large surface area dedicated to natural facilities which play a role in regulating our resources and waste. Over a certain number of inhabitants, the lack of space forces you to switch to the connected city model.

According to urbanist Carlo Ratti, this is inevitable — still because of the assumption that 70% of the world's population will live in cities by 2050. But the inevitability of this trend can be questioned.

Indeed, for the first time in a century, the number of farmers is increasing, both in Flanders and in Wallonia, Belgium's two regions. And this is not a circumstantial effect: this rise reflects the start of an economic and demographic redeployment of our rural areas, in response to a dominant agro-food policy and its low prices which, crisis after crisis, has shown all its limits. Urban planning may be born from the attractiveness of cities, but above all, it feeds on the lack of interest in the countryside that intensive agriculture helped to create.

What if, instead, the urban population started to decline by 2050? This hypothesis would open a whole range of possibilities to the low tech city — enough to question our desire to transform all our cities into smart cities.

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Economy
Gema Sacristán*

If Finance Rules The World, Green Bonds May Be Planet's Only Hope

The finance mechanism for sustainable infrastructure, energy and industry may be the ultimate key to curbing, and partly reversing, the harms of climate change.

-Analysis-

SANTIAGO — Is there a plausible way to reverse global warming? We must do things very differently, sure. We must devote a wholly different level of investment in time, money and effort. But how exactly? Invest to reverse — that is really the only way. We must create investment mechanisms to change production processes and models that have accompanied us for centuries, and replace them with less energy-intensive and resilient alternatives.

As the United Nations recalled recently, time is running out in the fight against climate change. Countries must multiply by five their efforts to reverse the current trend, which would raise the planet's temperatures 3.2 points above pre-industrial levels and not below the 2 °C set in the Paris Climate Pact. In recent years, so-called "Green bonds" have emerged to reverse this trend, as an investment formula to finance environmental projects. Today they have become the star asset of sustainable financing. The total outstanding balance is $520 billion according to figures from the Climate Bonds Initiative (CBI). And while emissions faltered in the last part of 2018, this year they have resumed briskly. CBI expects record emissions of green bonds this year, perhaps worth up to $250 billion, and total emissions of up to $400 billion in 2020. Green bonds have seen quantitative and qualitative growth, with a constant arrival of new emitters and sectors beside a high degree of innovation.

Last year was a highly positive one for green bonds in the region.

Last June, Chile dived into the market with the first emission in Latin America of sovereign green bonds, which additionally found considerable takers — with demand exceeding offer by 12.8 times. The emission occurred in two stages, first in U.S. dollars, then in euros, for a total $2.4 billion. The bonds have helped improve energy efficiency, helped create cleaner public transportation and more sustainable public buildings, generated renewables and financed more efficient management of natural resources.

The Chilean emission is helping expand the green bonds market in Latin America and the Caribbean, dominated thus far by Brazil and Mexico. Last year was a highly positive one for green bonds in the region, with $4.6 billion's worth of emissions from January to September, or three times the figures for 2018. Their accumulated value was $13.6 billion from eight countries: Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. Colombia and Peru hope to emit bonds in 2020. Most bonds have so far been for the energy sector, particularly renewables like solar and wind. The infrastructures sector is expected to take the lead in the future.

UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid, Spain on Dec. 15 — Photo: Lu Yang/Xinhua/ZUMA

Returning to the global market, we may consider certain innovations and discernible trends. One novelty is variable returns for investors or lenders dependent on attaining set sustainable objectives. This was the formula adopted by the Italian energy firm Enel in its emission last September, worth $1.5 billion. The firm is to pay bondholders a higher rate unless it attains its goal of renewables constituting more than 55% of its generation capacities in 2021. We can expect more such clauses in the future.

There is no lacking innovation here.

Another interesting trend is of so-called transition bonds, which seek to finance transition toward decarbonized firms and economies. There is increasing specialization in niche products, like the blue bonds issued by the Seychelles to protect and safeguard the surrounding seas, or forest bonds issued by Mexico City. We also have innovative financial structures and products, like Freddie Mac mortgage titles financing energy and water-efficient construction, or bonds to finance solar projects like El Naranjal and Del Literal in Uruguay, structured by the Inter-American Development Bank (BID Invest). There is also innovation in placements, as in emissions by the Austrian firm Verdund and more recently by BBVA for insurers Mapfre, executed entirely with blockchain technology.

There is no lacking innovation here, as fighting climate change does not just concern polluting industries. One way or another, we are all involved. From the demand perspective, we need only observe the growing appetite of investors for assets that are proving both profitable and helping build a more sustainable planet. These are all the ingredients we need so that, together, we may all reverse what is still reversible.

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India
Guillaume Delacroix

Battle Over Radical Elimination Of Plastic Bags In Mumbai

Since June 23, the Indian state of Maharashtra has been verbalizing distributors and users of non-reusable plastic. In Mumbai, more than two hundred inspectors are on the hunt.

MUMBAI — Santosh is still shaken by what happened. It was June 29, a Friday, when the officers from the Mumbai Municipality walked right up in front of his tiny jewelry stall to check that he was no longer using plastic bags to hold the merchandise he sells to customers. This street vendor, who lives with his family in this Indian city's historic district of Colaba, had already changed the bags he uses after authorities announced the ban on non-recyclable plastic bags. But to his surprise, the inspectors said his new cloth bags do not comply.

"They fined me 5,000 rupees ($72.80)," says Santosh. "I spent 300 rupees ($4.37) to get a hundred cloth bags that they wound up seizing. This fine is a huge loss for me, and I am now reduced to wrap my goods in newspapers."

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Green Or Gone
Jean-Marc Vittori

Only Environmentalism Can Save Capitalism

Rescuing the planet from the ravages of capitalism may be just the thing our dominant economic system needs to save itself, columnist Jean-Marc Vittori argues.

-Analysis-

PARIS — Capitalism is in a vicious circle. For lack of a project, it ends up consuming its own capital. And this represents a real threat to the future, because capitalism offers tremendous economic efficiency. It's to capitalism, after all, that we owe much of the fabulous improvements in living conditions over the past two centuries. Even its most ferocious critics, such as the Swiss sociologist Jean Ziegler, concede to that much.

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Green Or Gone
Monica Pelliccia

Why This Caribbean Island Has Streets Paved In Plastic

The Honduran island of Utila, in the Caribbean Sea, is using the copious amounts of trash that wash ashore to build roads.

UTILA — With its picture perfect turquoise waters, the Caribbean island of Utila, part of an offshore archipelago called the Bay Islands, is a tropical paradise. But its beautiful beaches can be strewn with trash during the fall rainy season, when litter and other refuse is carried by the tides.

Images taken by photographer Caroline Power of enormous masses of floating plastic garbage off the nearby island of Roatan generated international headlines in 2017. Sea turtles have problems nesting. Residents see dolphins playing with bags that look like jellyfish. And plastics threaten the health of the nearby Mesoamerican Reef, the world's second largest coral reef system and one of the most biodiverse coral areas on the planet.

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